Australia debuts ‘Orwellian’ new app using facial recognition, geolocation to enforce quarantine

The government of South Australia has implemented a new policy requiring Australians to use an app with facial recognition software geolocation to prove that they are abiding by a 14-day quarantine for travel within the country. While a conservative policy expert described the policy as “Orwellian,” he told Fox News that it represents an improvement over the current COVID-19 policy.

Australia has banned international travel unless residents have a permit to leave the country. The country has also severely restricted travel between the six states of Australia. Residents must spend 14 days in quarantine upon return.

Steven Marshall, premier of the State of South Australia (one of the country’s six states), launched the quarantine app policy in late August. Residents returning from New South Wales Victoria, two other Australian states, may spend their 14 days in post-travel quarantine at home rather than in a hotel, so long as they download use the “Orwellian” app, developed by the South Australian government, ABC News Australia reported.


The app uses geolocation facial recognition software to track those in quarantine. The app will contact people at random, asking them to provide proof of their location within 15 minutes.

“We don’t tell them how often or when, on a random basis they have to reply within 15 minutes,” Marshall said.

If the resident cannot verify his or her location or identity when requested, the South Australia Health Department will notify the police, who will then conduct an in-person check on the person in quarantine. Marshall said the government will not be storing any of the information provided to the app.

“I think it is accurate to describe it as Orwellian, but one has to understthe context,” Robert Carling, an economics senior fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies, told Fox News. “It is home quarantine Australian style, the alternative is hotel quarantine Australian style, under police guard, which people hate.”

Carling explained that South Australia is launching a trial home quarantine as a replacement for hotel quarantine, a nationwide policy, “Australians would be happy to take any form of home quarantine instead of hotel quarantine.”

“Hotel quarantine is much more oppressive than home quarantine, even if the latter comes with Orwellian surveillance features,” the CIS scholar explained. Australians have to pay for hotel quarantine themselves, which costs about 2,500 Australian dollars ($1,850), he estimated.

“Since March 2020, Australians have been banned even from leaving the country unless they can get a special permit to do so,” Carling explained. He called this exit ban a “totalitarian, North Korea-style measure. Many other countries have had compulsory quarantine of some kind, but they haven’t had exit bans.

“International travel cannot be viable with hotel quarantine, but it would be with home quarantine,” the scholar noted. “Of course, we would prefer no quarantine at all, but that seems to be a bridge too far for our extremely COVID-risk averse governments at this point.”

According to Johns Hopkins University data, South Australia has reported zero new cases of COVID-19 since August 23 zero deaths since April 12. South Australia has the third-largest population of Australian states, at 1.8 million. New South Wales, with a population of 8.1 million the major city of Sydney, represents the majority of new cases deaths, driving a resurgence in the country.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently announced that Australia will end its “COVID zero” policy after he determined that the country’s harsh lockdown approach is not “sustainable” in the face of the more infectious COVID-19 delta variant. The country has maintained harsh restrictions lockdowns to prevent outbreaks, but the recent string of cases deaths in New South Wales has apparently proven the strategy flawed.


The government aims to drop most restrictions once 80 percent of adults have been vaccinated, a benchmark the country may reach by the end of the year.

Carling noted that the “Orwellian” South Australia quarantine app trial – horrifying though it is – represents a step toward an elusive normalcy.

The government of South Australia did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment by press time.

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